I was listening to the radio last week–it was a couple of days after the bombs went off in Boston–and the DJ was talking about finding the person/persons who did it. She said, “I hope that we find whoever did this, I hope we bring them to justice, and I hope they go straight to Hell” (I can’t be sure, but it seems like her idea of “bring them to justice” means to kill them as a punishment for the people that they killed and hurt. Incidentally, she used her vocal hopes of eternal damnation as a segue into a spoken advertisement for some sort of dog food. It went “hope they go STRAIGHT TO HELL! *pause….* You know, I love my dog a whole lot, and I want to do what’s best for it….” It was jarring, to say the least).
Most of the time I believed it was garbage when people would say something like “You’re not a Christian if….” followed by whatever. You can’t be a Christian if you’re Pro-Choice. You’re not a Christian if you go to THAT church. You can’t be gay and be a Christian. If you don’t believe that Hell is an eternity of torture, you aren’t really a Christian. You’re not a Christian if you don’t believe in the Trinity, or the Virgin Birth, or the Rapture, or whatever…. There is this dichotomy between “real Christians” and people who just call themselves Christians (Not too surprisingly, the person talking is almost always a part of the group containing the “real Christians”). This is the stuff of division and disunion and denominations…. “They’re geting it all wrong, but WE’VE got it right.”
As much as it can sound arbitrary and judgmental to add these sorts of hardline qualifying statements to right Christian doctrine, I think I’ve decided on one that works for me. Here it is: If you wish Hell on another person, you’re not a Christian. Let me qualify that, because “Christian” can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people (as can “Hell”). If you believe (I don’t, but many people do) that Hell is an eternity of torture–one where someone’s essence is prolonged in tortuous agony for a million years, and when that million years is up, you still have a billion years to go, followed by a trillion more years of torture after that–and you think another person’s actions DESERVE that fate and you wish that on them, then you probably don’t know Jesus at all. He hasn’t changed your heart. You aren’t aware of how depraved you are…. Or the gigantic grace and God-sized love that saved you. And if you would wish an eternity of torture on someone else, regardless of the heinous act a person may have committed, you are probably way more in danger of the fires of some sort of Hell than any misguided kid who sets off a bomb in a crowd of people.
Not too long ago, I met an old Quaker. He was a man in his 80’s, he was wearing overalls that looked to be older than me, and his every movement and word seemed to be thick with love and peace. He’s a man who has spent the last 40 years going to visit death row inmates. He goes into the prisons in an attempt to bring some light and love into a place that tries as hard as possible to dehumanize people who have done some terrible things. He started doing this after his daughter was murdered. The men have to have been on death row for at least fifteen years before they are allowed to come to his class. He talked about how these men are not the same people who committed those crimes that ended someone’s life–crimes that, in turn, resulted in those men being told they are not worth keeping alive. He is an advocate for these men and their humanness, despite the horrific actions of their youth. He is an advocate for love and mercy and forgiveness. And he is an advocate for Jesus–Not the counterfeit Jesus that’s full of hate and damnation for everyone who doesn’t hold your group’s particular understanding of doctrine, but the Jesus who looked at an unbaptized, condemned criminal on a cross next to him and said, “Today, you’re going to be with me in paradise.” The Jesus who told the people that the Samaritan (who believed all the wrong things) was doing a better job of following the command to love than the priests were doing (who had all the “right” doctrine). You know–The Jesus of the Bible.
At this very moment, there is probably a person somewhere in the world right now praying that you go straight to hell. Maybe it’s a man somewhere far away from here. Maybe it’s the father of a murdered daughter. Maybe it was a daughter who was killed by a drone attack while playing at a birthday party. But there is no power in “an eye for an eye.” There is no inspiration in vengeance…. There is only more death. As unforgivable as a person’s actions/crimes/sins might seem, it is mercy, forgiveness, love that inspires the world. People cheering when Osama Bin Laden died…. People crying out for the death penalty…. People demanding an quick dismissal to an eternity of torture–These are NOT the actions of a people who follow Jesus. They are the actions of people who don’t realize or don’t remember that they’ve received mercy. And that’s some scary stuff, especially if you consider that Jesus might have meant it when he said “the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others.”
I know, I know…. This one was hilarious. My very wise wife is telling me I need to step up the funny, but this past week was a kick in the nuts. But really though, what’s funnier than telling self-righteous people that they don’t really know Jesus, right? I’ll tell you what’s funnier: My next blog post. Count on it.
Well said, Mr. Bookstool. I always enjoy being told I’m going to hell, and thanks to the Internet it’s not just my grandmother telling me. If more Christians were like you the world would be a lot hairier (well, except on the head) and there would be nothing wrong with that. After all, we’re all mammals just trying to make it in this world.
With mammals, things can tend to get pretty hairy….
FYI, I’m not doing anything close to telling you you’re going to hell. But you already knew that. 🙂
I wasn’t implying you we’re condemning me to hell but others on the Internet have no qualms about it. I did enjoy the lady who told me, “You go to hell; You go to hell and you die,” in response to me saying that humans are animals.
Ok, it wasn’t funny, but I believe you were spot on. It’s hard to know what to pray for in the time of hurting, so my prayer for that young man is that God’s will be done.
The picture captions were at least a little funny though, right? Get it? Christian Slater? tap tap tap…. This thing on?
You know, I don’t always agree with you but love reading your thoughts in this blog and even the ones I disagree with. On this one though, I wholeheartedly agree. It is so hard to love the unlovable but that is exactly what Jesus did and I believe what we are all called to do as Christians. Thanks for the reminder.
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I LOVE finding things to agree about. I’m glad you liked it, Sharon.
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“But there is no power in “an eye for an eye.” There is no inspiration in vengeance…. There is only more death.” Stringfellow would be proud, my friend! I am sitting with you thoughts for the rest of the day. Thank you!
**suspicious squinty eyes**
Who is this….
I always tell my wife that I believe in Jesus, I believe in God, I don’t believe in Christians. Of course I mean most Christians, usually the extremists and Ministers who make 100,000+ a year. I appreciate your article on this. I have read the Bible and don’t recall a gay marriage debate, a no taxing the upper-class, or a Slayer is Satan…I do, however remember the little ditties about judging not, rejoicing, loving thy neighbor, selflessness, you know…..communist socialism. Wocka-wocka!
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!!!
Well said. mostly. Jesus even taught us to love our enemies. I don’t see much love for Muslim Extremest today. One little question. Do you know if the thief on the cross you mentioned was or was not baptized, because the Bible does not tell us?
I believe this is the only place we hear anything of these two robbers, and based on the accounts I doubt they were baptized as they are recorded in two of the gospels as mocking Jesus and heaping insults on him with the others. However, for one of them, something at some point changed. In the book of Luke one of them came to know Christ, the other still rejected him. One then would meet Jesus again in paradise. Here are the accounts:
Matthew 27:38 says “Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.” and 27:44 “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (41 …[they] mocked him]
And Mark 15:27 “They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.” and 15:32 “Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
Luke 23:32-33 says “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left.”
23:39-43 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
John 19:18 briefly mentions them saying, “Here they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”
The Bible doesn’t say. I personally don’t think it matters…. There are some who think that a person has to be baptized in order to go to be saved. I don’t. The Bible also says that you have to sell all your stuff and give the money to the poor, you know? Think about all those people John baptized before Jesus even died for the sins of the world….
After discussing the bombing with our 10 year old, she asked if when we caught the people responsible if they would go to jail or if we would kill them. (not exactly what I had planned for dinner conversation.) I told her it would be up to a judge and that we hoped that the judge would make the right decision. She said she thought that “killing them because they killed would be wrong.” When I told her that one of the bombers had been caught and that he was not killed like his brother she responded “Thank goodness! Now he has a chance to know Jesus!” It made me feel guilty that I didn’t have the same initial response.
Oh the faith and love of children! That is such a good point though! I hope someone will go and preach the gospel to this young man!!
Thank you, Jen. This is awesome. I don’t think that the feeling you experienced was guilt. It was shame–Appropriate shame that we should all be feeling every now and again. 🙂
But yeah, this is so good. My oldest has those sorts of rock solid, compassionate instincts too. I’m always scared I’m going to do something to screw her up.
What a beautiful statement. Be proud of your parenting. 🙂
Not sure I can take credit for all of it. It is amazing to me the wise things that come from her. God has great things in store for that girl!
So I have to confess that my first thoughts when I heard the news about the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were how horrible it must have been to lie in a boat bleeding all day! Sure, he was deluded enough to think that violence would accomplish something worthwhile. But he was 19 years old! It breaks my heart!
I think it should break all of our hearts. 🙂
You don’t really address what DOES make someone a Christian. And to clarify, the term Christian was used by the early church (see Acts) b/c they were followers of Christ. Does this mean Everyone who uses that term to describe themselves IS a Christian? No. Judas was one of his disciples. He turned him in. Peter was a disciple as well, and denied him. What was the difference? They both realized what they did was wrong. One wept and repented.
Instead of dancing in the streets maybe we should be doing the same. And praying – for lost souls to know Christ!
So many people think they need to lead “good” lives and when they stand before God they hope they were “good enough” and that they did not need to accept Christ. But the reality is that JESUS’ death is what paid for our sins and ONLY HIS DEATH/SACRIFICE makes US good enough.
The Bible tells us that he bore our sins, he suffered for our iniquities. And the punishment that brought us peace was on him. He became SIN that we might become His RIGHTEOUSNESS. Are we to do good works and love and forgive? ABSOLUTELY, but that is NOT what saves us.
Just BECAUSE you are loving, or “accepting” does not make you saved. Being saved comes from accepting Christ’s sacrifice and His grace – repenting – realizing we ARE ALL Sinners and that we need His saving grace!
Andrea–Is our salvation dependent at all on something we have to do?
Ask? I once heard that true repentance is a gift from God, which I tend to believe. I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain repentance on my own. So if there’s “something we have to do”, I’d say ask. In the same way as when you keep getting lost trying your own directions, so you eventually set aside your pride, admit you can’t get it right, then stop and ask. A changed heart, repentance, real love, etc, will soon follow.
I get what you’re saying, B-rad…. But so then, God gives us the years that we are alive to ask, and then if we don’t do it before we die, we spend a trillion years in torment? Is that the story? Or do dead people get a chance to ask after they have died? What happens?
Yeah, tough one. I wrestle with that a lot.
“It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life”. – 2 Peter 2:21
This suggests to me that perhaps not knowing holds some weight. If not, then how would it “be better”? But I’ve heard convincing arguments for either side. I’ll chalk it up to one of those things that we don’t need to know and carry on knowing that I’m supposed to share the good news.
That sounds like a good plan. 🙂
To add to that… for those who do hear a complete and accurate gospel, but still never ask, can it be said that they rejected it? I think it is so important to give a thorough explanation of what Christ’s life and death means for mankind. To provide application for the here and now and why this is the greatest news ever. To ask questions like “How do you handle your guilt?”. I get the feeling people have heard so many times “you need Jesus”, “Jesus saves”, “Jesus died for your sins”, and really have no clue what these phrases even mean.
If shared effectively, I think the gospel can and will haunt a person until they have no choice but to seriously ponder it.
‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live’ Ezekiel 33.11
Yes. Then again, Deuteronomy 28:63 says, “Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you.” So that can be troubling….
But THIS: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-48
So what can we learn about God from these words? Ezekiel seems to think God gets no pleasure from evil people dying, and the writer of Deuteronomy seems to think it can please God to ruin and destroy people…. But Jesus, the best picture of God that we have available, not only commands us to love our enemies, but he says that loving our enemies is perfect. That loving enemies is what The Father does, and we should be like the Father.
Which brings me back to my point: If a person desires torture for a person (In this life or the afterlife), that person doesn’t know Jesus, OR the loving Father to which he points.
I remember the day the Lord Jesus spoke to me after I had prayed for many years that he would help me to FEEL his love. Because up until that point (at the age of 27) the only thing I felt when I read the Bible was guilt and a dark, foreboding sense of impending gloom. It was like the day I read the verse in which Jesus says, “If your eye is evil your whole body will be full of darkness.” And the Holy Spirit suddenly pointed out that Jesus didn’t say my SOUL would be full of darkness, but rather my BODY. I then went and looked up the other verses (in the two other Gospels) and learned that nowhere did Jesus say, “If your eye is evil your soul will be full of darkness.” It isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. So why did I always feel that my soul would be full of darkness because my eye was bad? Because Satan had somehow deceived me to the point that I couldn’t even read the words on the page. That’s incredible! And these people whose perception, whose eye, is darkened–God can open their eyes as well. Peace.
I like the way you talk about Jesus 🙂
Hi there brother. First, I would like to say, I like and see many things the same way you do. What Christ was about was love, plain and simple. So many ” Christians ” forget what that word means, to be Christ like, and close themselves up in their church groups, judging the rest of the world and even those close to them. Have you ever read The Shack? Just wondering.
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I love this text so much, and I agree with you on every point. I often find when I read your texts that you make me realise what I really think and feel, and help me put words to that. So thank you. And keep it up, don’t ever be discouraged!
Thanks Linda. That means a whole lot…